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Beverage Can Americas pops lid on Cognos BI

Consumer packaging giant Beverage Can Americas is now getting a better look at crucial data and helping its customers help themselves. For that, it credits technology from business intelligence software vendor Cognos.

The CRM and business intelligence initiatives of the Beverage Can Americas Co. are as complex and over-arching as the history of the company that the technology serves.

Beverage Can Americas, based in Chicago, is the second largest manufacturer of aluminum and steel cans in the Western Hemisphere. Its parent company, the London-headquartered Rexam, is comprised of six sectors that manufacture cans, as well as glass and plastic containers. Together, the sectors and their parent company share a 102-year history and a recent and rapid transition from global conglomerate with interests in manufacturing, insurance and financial services, to a focused consumer-packaging company.

Late in 2000 Beverage Can Americas embarked on a new, customer-centric chapter in its history.

It began to look at revamping its CRM system with a goal of gaining a 360-degree view of customer data, as well as providing different areas within the company with information about inventory, products, materials and customer feedback.

Vendor selection

The choice of tools was the easy part, said Vice President and Chief Information Officer Paul Martin. In addition to Martin's having had good experiences with Cognos products in his previous job, software from the Ottawa, Ontario-based Cognos was already a part of the Beverage Can Americas technological arsenal.

"We've actually been using Cognos for several years as an ad-hoc tool," Martin said. "But it wasn't until a year and half ago that we really did a full-court press to enable Cognos across our enterprise."

The company also considered software from Business Objects and Crystal Reports, but in the end, Martin said it went with Cognos because it offered the best analytics tools.

"The other key initiative was the fact that we had a pretty long backlog of enhancements or reports enhancements data that various functional areas wanted to see out of our back-office data system. And we decided that this was a good tool to use to get people trained and allow them to be empowered to go get the information themselves," he said.

The implementation process

Beverage Can Americas' CRM and business intelligence initiatives evolved in three phases, each with a Cognos tool at its center. The first phase was built around Impromptu, Cognos's Web-based managed reporting software.

"The first release was a way to capture feedback," said Martin.

Prior to the adoption of Impromptu, Beverage Can Americas had been registering feedback manually, through phone calls to customer service representatives, faxes and e-mails.

A simple inquiry about the status of an invoice could become a nightmare. Customers would call the accounts receivable group and describe their problem, and then employees would go and look up the information.

"Maybe within a couple of hours they would be able to determine what the issue was," Martin said. "What we've done [with our current system] is provide the customers with a self-service portal, which Cognos is part of, so that they can go online with their own inquiry and pull that information down themselves."

Building data cubes

By early 2001, the backlog of report requests was in hand, and Beverage Can Americas turned its attention toward its next CRM initiative.

"We continued to use some of the Impromptu technology, but with that particular project we also introduced the PowerPlay tool, because we really wanted to have that 360-degree view of the customer data," said Martin.

Beverage Can Americas is using PowerPlay, Cognos' OLAP software, to build multidimensional data cubes, not only for CRM, but also for its other business processes. "All the cubes are being built off of our mini-mart," said Matt McDonald, manager of business intelligence. "We have everything in there from inventory to sales to invoicing to customer feedback, products and materials."

This mini-data mart took three months to build, McDonald said. Currently, he's focusing his efforts on Beverage Can Americas' Scorecard initiative. Using Cognos Visualizer, a data visualization tool that allows managers to view and compare data from multiple areas at the same time, McDonald's team has built the first in a series of dashboards designed to give managers a quick and comprehensive overview of their functional area.

"That was a tool that we were trying to construct to eliminate manual efforts [of sifting] through the spreadsheets and telephone calls," said McDonald. "The production control manager can come in and flip on and view at the click of a button what the business looks like as far inventory and things like that."

The first dashboard, focusing on the operations part of the company, is now in the prototype phase. Martin said that the company is planning to implement more dashboards in the executive area.

Looking ahead

Going forward, Martin said that Beverage Can Americas will continue to standardize on Cognos, in conjunction with their SAP Business Warehouse tool. Beverage Can Americas success is extending to the rest of the corporation.

"The other companies within Rexam have seen what we've done and been very impressed by it," said Martin. "(Beverage Can Europe and Asia, and Flexibles) have asked us to provide them with what we've done."

If he had everything to do over again, said Martin, he "would have gotten more people to get the initiative up and going faster. But I wouldn't have changed anything that we've done from the tool selection or the way that we have introduced it."

By the end of 2002, Martin said, Beverage Can Americas should realize full return on its investment, $400,000 to $500,000 including tools and implementation. The company is measuring ROI in concrete terms based upon the amount of work that has been eliminated as far as outstanding requests and writing canned programs to meet those requests. The second, "soft" measurement, is perhaps more important: customer satisfaction.

"We're getting better results from our customer surveys," said Martin. "And we're doing things that will allow us to provide a service above what other competitors could provide that customer."

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